hard rock

REVIEW: David Lee Roth – Big Trouble Comes to Toronto – Maple Leaf Gardens 10/31/86 (bootleg cassette)

DAVID LEE ROTH – Big Trouble Comes to Toronto – Maple Leaf Gardens 10/31/86 (bootleg cassette)

This cassette is a second generation, recorded from a buddy (with good equipment at least) in 1992.  My first bootleg.  It opens with a Van Halen-era interview with David Lee Roth about “precision rock”.  The crackle of original vinyl is audible.

A nice fade-in brings Steve Vai’s guitar to the fore, and then it’s wide open into “Shyboy”.  High octane, even though it’s just an audience recorded cassette with not enough volume on the guitar.  Without pause they rock into “Tobacco Road”. Gregg Bissonette’s toms a-thunderin’.  Vai certainly needs no help in hitting all the guitar hooks that he baked into the vinyl, just with more flair and energy.

Dave has never shied away from Van Halen hits or deep cuts.  “Unchained”, “Panama” and “Pretty Woman” are the first three.  The bass rumblings are unlike anything Michael Anthony played on the original.  The backing vocals are far more elaborate.  Like in Van Halen, “Unchained” is interrupted part way, but this time it’s so Dave can ask what you think of his new band!  Pretty hot.  After “Unchained” he stops to talk to a “pretty Canadian girl”.  “Panama” sounds a little odd with Brett Tuggle’s keyboards so prominent in the mix.  And it’s also way way way too long, with Dave trying to figure out who is reaching down between whose legs, but that’s Dave.  You don’t go to the show just to hear the music.  You go to see the whole schtick.  You put in the quarter, you gotta let the jukebox play the whole thing out.

“Pretty Woman” is zipped through fairly quickly (with one audience participation stop), going into Dave’s rabid “Elephant Gun” and the slick “Ladies’ Night in Buffalo?”  “Elephant Gun” features solos galore that would have been pretty awesome to see up close.  It sounds like there’s a vinyl side break before heading into “Buffalo”.  Vai’s guitar is the star here, in an extended solo backed only by Tuggle.  This turns into a dual bass/guitar call-and-answer.

When Bissonette starts on those tribal beats, you know it’s Van Halen’s “Everybody Wants Some!!”  This great version includes a drum solo.  Next it’s “On Fire” from the Van Halen debut.  Dave asks for the guitars to be turned up – we agree.  “On Fire” with keyboards and Vai noodling is a different animal.  After Dave’s original “Bump and Grind”, it’s time to flip the tape.

Side two opens with some of Dave’s acoustic strummin’, and a story called “Raymond’s Song”.  It’s just an excuse for him to say “Toronto” a whole lotsa times before introducing “Ice Cream Man”.  Which completely smokes.  Vai puts his own space-age spin on it, and Tuggle adds boogie piano, but this is one wicked version!

Dave’s solo track “Big Trouble” has plenty of atmosphere and fireworks for the Toronto crowd, but “Yankee Rose” is just nuts.  Nothing but the hits from here on in:  “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love”, “Goin’ Crazy!”, “Jump” and “California Girls”.  The heavy riff of “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” sounds great in Steve’s hands, who doesn’t go too crazy with it.  Of course there has to be another long break in the middle (too many breaks at this point now).  This time it’s so Dave can get Stevie to make his guitar say “Toronto kicks ass, because the chicks are so fine”.  The rest of the songs are somewhat fluffy, the pop stuff, and rendered a little sweet with the added shimmer of Brett Tuggle.  “Jump” misses the deeper tone of Eddie’s Oberheim OBXA.

It’s worth noting that Roth closes with “California Girls”, not “Jump”.  His solo career is the point, not Van Halen, he seems to be saying.  This is the cherry on top.  Roth hands it to his new band several times in the show — he knew they had to deliver, and they did.  And he wants people to know that he has a band that can compete with his old group.

The show is complete,  and apparently Dave didn’t play “Just a Gigolo” on this tour.  The opening act in Toronto was Cinderella, supporting Night Songs.

Sometimes you wish Dave would get on with it and play the next song, but that’s only because this is a cassette bootleg being played on a Technics RS-TR272.  If you were there in Toronto on the Eat ‘Em and Smile tour, you’d be eating up every word Dave laid down.  He is the master of the stage.  Sure, it doesn’t always translate to tape but that’s the nature of Dave’s live show, isn’t it?  It’s precision rock — visually and audibly combined.

4.5/5 stars (for what the show must have been in person)

 

REVIEW: Loudness – Live-Loud-Alive – Loudness in Tokyo (1983)

LOUDNESS – Live-Loud-Alive – Loudess in Tokyo (1983 Columbia)

Like many classic rock bands, Loudness waited three studio albums before going double live.  The Birthday EveDevil Soldier and The Law of Devil’s Land were ripe and ready for live album immortality.  English is minimal, but you don’t need a Japanese dictionary to enjoy the metal within Live-Loud-Alive.  It is the most galvanized of the metal; Loudness’ integrity uncompromised, with Akira Takasaki in lead shred mode.

With a double length album so early in Loudness’ career, they played plenty of non-album material to fill it.  And it’s good!

Opening with a recording of Holst’s “Mars, the Bringer of War” the band rip right into the riff for “In the Mirror”.  That guitar sounds so classic, you’ll be questioning which Scorpions or Metallica album it’s from.  A heavy chug named “Road Racer” (originally a non-album Loudness single) is paired with one of Minoru Niihara’s most melodic lead vocals.  Only the thick and shimmery (probably embellished) chorus is in English.   On guitar, Akira Takasaki’s solo sounds like he is re-entering the atmosphere after an alien/robot conference in space.  “I Was the Sun” has a slower beat, pounding sheet metal into lethal form, with an elementary riff.  Ordinary as the riff may be, it isn’t the highlight this time.  The chorus takes center stage.  The first side of the original vinyl ended on “Fly Away”, a mammoth of a song mixing the delicate and the heavy.

“Black Wall” opens on what sounds like bass synth, but Akira soon takes command with a melancholy and precise guitar pattern.  Then, like any good Sabbath song, he breaks into a completely different lick, just as catchy.  An instrumental track from Akira’s solo album follows, including a wicked drum solo by Munetaka Higuchi.  This side of the record blows out with “Mr. Yesman”, a complex track like “2112” crossed with “Children of the Damned”.

On side three, a new song is previewed:  “Exploder”, a Van Halen-like guitar instrumental destined for album #4.  This transitions into another instrumental called “Heavenward”, similar to Akira’s solo work.  It’s all just good music that flows track intro track.  Guitar shrieks tell us that “Loudness” is next, a brilliant mid-tempo rocker of radio-ready nature.  It sounds like vintage, early 80s Scorpions.  Another killer riff in “Sleepless Night” brings the side to a solid close.

“Speed” does what it says.  That’s no surprise.  What may be surprising is the quality of the non-album B-side “Shinkiro”.  This cool track has some great melodic twists and an absolutely brilliant and varied Akira solo.  One of his best!  From volume-knob twists to full-on speed, it’s brilliant.  The only way to end it is by going back to the beginning, and “Burning Love”, the first non-album single by the band.  It’s a blistering way to go out.

Though not singing primarily in English yet, their musical influences were clearly the same ones from North America and Europe that we know and love too.  While you may not recognize the songs, many will sound familiar because they draw from the same pool.  It’s the best of early Loudness, void of commercial ambition.  While you do lose the ability to sing along, you can at least slam to the riffs.  One can hear why this album is held in such high esteem by the faithful.  It sounds like an experience.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Loudness – World Tour 2018 – Rise to Glory – Live in Tokyo (2019)

LOUDNESS – World Tour 2018 – Rise to Glory – Live in Tokyo (2019 Ear Music)

In an unfortunate twist of events, Loudness drummer Masayuki Suzuki was sidelined by stroke and could not perform on the Rise to Glory tour.  Ryuichi “Dragon” Nishida filled in beat-for-beat and appears on the live album World Tour 2018 – Rise to Glory – Live in Tokyo.  This 2 CD/1 DVD combo set is compiled from three days in Tokyo, with a bonus:  the DVD features one track with Masayuki Suzuki from the fourth day.  His performance on “Loudness” is as if there was nothing wrong with him, and he appears delighted to be playing live again.

Live in Tokyo is an energized performance, focusing almost entirely on early Loudness.  This being a hometown crowd, many of the songs are performed with their original Japanese lyrics.  1985’s Thunder in the East takes the early focus on disc one with the first six tracks all being sourced from the “big” album.  These tracks are intense, with solos by Akira Takasaki that melt the face.  Classic Loudness with jagged riffs and still-powerful vocals from Minoru Niihara.

Oldies abound.  Disc 1 also includes “Loudness” (the version with Ryuichi Nishida on drums) from the 1981 debut The Birthday Eve.  A slick, well-received version.  There’s also a punishing “In the Mirror” from third LP The Law of Devil’s Land, and the memorable “Crazy Doctor” from 1984’s Disillusion.

The second disc spotlights two lesser-known albums.  First is The Law of Devil’s Land from 1983.  The first five heavy numbers (including a second version of “In the Mirror”) all come from that platter.  This is the heavy proto-thrash that Loudness were peddling at the start of the 80s, and vicious stuff it is.  But not without hooks!  The last five originated on Disillusion, regarded by some aficionados as Loudness’ best.  From “Crazy Doctor” through the ballad “Ares’ Lament” and the finisher “Esper”, these are some great metal songs.

 

Impressively, the third disc (the DVD) highlights another batch of songs missed on the first two discs:  newer material.  “Soul on Fire”, “Go For Broke”, “Until I See the Light”, “I’m Still Alive” and a pair of instrumentals from the new Rise to Glory (2018) stand up to the earlier material.  The awesome “The Sun Will Rise Again” from the 2014 album of the same name rounds out the freshest material.  The new tunes are still heavy, riffy and melodic, but with a very slight modern edge.  “I’m Still Alive” goes thrash metal, but that’s part of Loudness’ origins.  Besides the return of Suzuki on drums for one song, the highlight of the DVD is a ballad.  After so many brutal songs, Minoru breaks out an acoustic guitar for an unplugged “Ares’ Lament”.  This is completely different than the version on CD 2, which was done fully electric.

Any classic band from the 80s or earlier, still trying to pull it off today, has the same question to answer:  How good is the singer?  Minoru Niihara is excellent.  As if no years have passed.  None of the material presents a challenge.

Considering the mixture of material over the three discs, Rise to Glory – Live in Tokyo would be a suitable entry point for any rock fan wanting to check out Loudness.  You’ll get the hits from Thunder in the East, ample early deep cuts, and a sampling of quality new stuff.  Value for the money and time invested.

4.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Tesla – The Great Radio Controversy (1989)

TESLA – The Great Radio Controversy (1989 Geffen)

Tesla came right out of the box with two great studio albums in a row.  Their debut Mechanical Resonance is close to perfect.  Two years later they came into their own even more with The Great Radio Controversy which saw them stretch it out further.  The dropped some of the more overt heavy metal influences that were heard on “Modern Day Cowboy” and went for the roots.  The Great Radio Controversy provided Tesla with their biggest hit, “Love Song”, the track that got me into the band for good.

1989-90 was peak power ballad time and I loved ’em as much as any lonely highschool boy wouldBob Schipper was the Tesla fan first, but once I decided to take the plunge, I went all the way and got both albums on CD instead of cassette.  Though the big hit was the ballad, The Great Radio Controversy is a tougher album overall than the debut.  Once hooked by “Love Song”, other tunes made themselves immediately prominent.  Unfortunately the ballad probably didn’t convey an accurate image of Tesla to the general public.

Tesla were great at writing hooks, and opener “Hang Tough” hits right away with a killer little bass intro by Brian Wheat.  This hard-hitter is a killer song with dual guitars, and Jeff Keith just givin’ ‘er at the microphone.  It’s a defiant tune with the kind of shouted chorus that a concert crowd could get behind.  Guitars galore courtesy of Mssrs. Hannon and Skeoch.  Continuing the lyrical theme of “hangin’ in there”, it’s “Lady Luck”.  The punchy chorus, “Lady Luck took a walk,” has a Def Leppard vibe circa Pyromania.  Jeff Keith’s convincing rasp is like a blunt instrument for delivering hooks.

The first track that really showed Tesla were a cut above the Hollywood trash was “Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out)”, a track ahead of its time.  With a grungy, chunky groove and acoustics layered with electrics, wah-wahs and slides, it’s Tesla doing their own thing.  It has one foot in southern rock and another in molten lead.  At this point, Frank Hannon and Tommy Skeoch were on their way to “serious guitar duo” status.

Tesla lighten up a bit on “Be a Man”, catchy and simple enough for the radio.  Nicely composed for easy consumption, complete with a considerably canorous guitar solo.  The skies grow dark again quickly on “Lazy Days, Crazy Nights” which sounds like it should be a party rocker, but is not.  “I’m doing fine right here on borrowed time,” sings Jeff on this memorable dirge.  Things get hot again on “Did it For the Money”, a slammin’ track with another riff reminiscent of a certain British band from Sheffield.  They don’t slow down on “Yesterdaze Gone”, the side closer, which is only faster and more intense.

A solid side-opening “Makin’ Magic” brings the tempo back to centre.  Chugging along with guitarmonies aloft, this is a nice rocker to reset the tone.  This leads into another single, “The Way It Is”, which is a light rocker but not quite a ballad.  Tesla’s southern side shines through.  It sounds like a celebration with a little bit of Skynyrd on the side.

I have one memory regarding “Flight to Nowhere”.  It was September of my last year of highschool, and for the yearbook, they wanted to take a big aerial photo.  I believe we stood in the football field spelling the letters “GRCI” while a plane flew overhead taking the pictures.  I remember standing near my friend Danesh, who also owned a CD of The Great Radio Controversy.  This song came to our minds as we jokingly imagined doomy scenarios of plane crashes and our imminent deaths.  “Goin’ down!  I’m on a flight to nowhere!”  Anecdote aside, this killer track is a deep cut tragically ignored over the years.  As it blasts through the skies powered by the chug of electric guitars, it only gets more intense.  My favourite line to repeat:  “Now the headlines read all across the lands, ’bout the motherfuckers gettin’ way outta hand.”  It seemed to genuinely apply to the world we lived in, as Iraq invaded Kuwait and created a powderkeg in the middle east.  More importantly it captured my youthful anger at the situation the world found itself it.  Motherfuckers.

The one weakness that The Great Radio Controversy has is its length.  We’re on track 11 and only now getting to “Love Song”.  Like “Little Suzi” on the previous LP, this one opens with a unique acoustic instrumental passage.  It is a mini composition of its own, unrelated to “Love Song” with a vaguely neoclassical vibe.   Yet it’s still a part of it, as one seems incomplete without the other.  Either way, “Love Song” is a powerhouse, a definitive power ballad, and one of the best from a period that suffered from a glut of them.  Midway it goes to a whole new level with a gut-busting Frankie Hannon lead.

Everything after this unfortunately feels like anti-climax because of the massive presence “Love Song” has on the second side.  “Paradise” is a good tune, which actually sounded better when it was redone acoustically on the next album Five Man Acoustic Jam.  The original is a tad overwrought, like heavy-handed Aerosmith.  The final song is, appropriately enough “Party’s Over”.  The riff bounces from the left speaker to the right in a cool effect, and once again I’m reminded of another five-member band from across the pond with the same management (Q-Prime).

Though song for song, The Great Radio Controversy seems the equal of Mechanical Resonance, it’s just a hint more uneven due to its longer running time.  Minor quibble.  Tesla had made two outstanding rock albums in a row by now and were still growing.   Some say The Great Radio Controversy is the best Tesla album.  I say, you be the judge.

4.25/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Triumph – “Spellbound” (1984 special promo 12″)

TRIUMPH – “Spellbound” (1984 MCA 12″ radio promo disc)

1984’s Thunder Seven was a big one in Canada, with “Spellbound” and “Follow Your Heart” both hitting the top 100 singles chart.  Triumph singles rarely offered up much in the way of non-album material, but the odd curiosity could be found.  This Triumph single for “Spellbound” was acquired by a friend, from Jerry’s Records in Pittsburgh back in 2013.

On the A-side, the standard 5:12 single version of “Spellbound” without edits.  You can really hear why this was a hit in 1984.  Triumph had learned to marry keyboard and guitar riffs for a bigger radio-ready sound.  With Gil Moore on lead vocals, “Spellbound” had huge chorus.  The track was also made into a cool video.

The B-side was specially designed for radio airplay.  Each track on Thunder Seven is given a brief special intro by the three band members.  You could look at this as an interview disc.  It’s nine minutes in length and not without value.  By listening we learn that “Spellbound”, for example, changed much from conception to release.  It was once titled “White Lies” before it was rewritten.  “Time Canon” was made up of 18 parts over 66 tracks.  Amazing stuff.  Their Canadian accents are adorable.

An excellent purchase for Triumph fans who have it all and need a little more.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Jim Crean – The Book of Cryptids Volume II (2020)

JIM CREAN – The Book of Cryptids Volume II (2020 Dark Night Records)

Jim Crean, hard rock singer extraordinaire from Buffalo, New York, has issued another covers album called The Book of Cryptids Volume II.  Many will shy away at the thought of a covers album, but Crean always picks interesting covers off the beaten track.  The Book of Cryptids Volume II works because A) these are not songs you typically hear covered, and B) Jim kicks ass on them all.

It’s a varied album.  “Medusa” by Anthrax opens heavily and melodically.  You might wonder how a hard rock singer like Crean tackles Anthrax.  Without difficulty!  Jim has a bit more rasp, but where Joey Belladonna gets aggressive, Jim pays more attention to the notes.  It’s a fine trade-off.  Second in line is the seldom-covered Aerosmith classic “Kings and Queens”, which is right up Jim’s alley.  Sounds like a banjo is thrown in for texture during the verses.  For an even deeper cut, check out the flawless version of Def Leppard’s “Mirror Mirror”.  It ticks all the boxes from dual guitars to throbbing bass.  Old raspy Def Leppard is well suited to Jim, who wrenches some panache from the chorus.  An ace performance.

Gowan’s “A Criminal Mind” is definitely an unexpected cover.  The only band known for covering it is Styx — featuring Lawrence Gowan.  Jim Crean could be the only other singer to dare tackle it?  This song might be a bit of a sacred cow in some quarters, but Jim does an admirable job of it.  Not vastly different, but with its own unique vocal colours.

Keeping with a synthy 80s plot twist, “Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground)” is the old Mike + the Mechanics hit.  Cool guitar solo on this track that stays pretty true to the original.  Then “Cry For Freedom”, the White Lion slow burner from 1989, is another surprise.  Crean has covered White Lion before, but “Cry For Freedom” is a special song.  Not a ballad yet not a rocker, it leans heavily on the beat and the vocal.  Then it has a guitar burn-up near the end, and this one sounds exactly like Vito Bratta.

A keyboardy piano ballad called “Love Is” (Vanessa Williams) …well, let’s just say it takes balls of steel to put it on the same album as an Anthrax song.  Fortunately Jim makes it cool, but not as cool as the earlier “Criminal Mind”.  But then it’s a whole different ball park:  Mother Love Bone, and “Star Dog Champion”.  Again, a song that might be considered sacred in some quarters.  Jim’s voice is well suited to it, and this “Champion” is fully enjoyable.

We begin to draw to a close on the Scorpions early dark ballad, “When the Smoke is Going Down”.  It’s another song that Crean is capable of bending to his will.  Brilliant vocal on this one, especially considering that Klaus Meine has to be a top-five metal singer.  Coming down from that climax, the final denoument is surprisingly authentic to the original:  the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”.  This is one of those mountainous peaks that only fools dare to climb.  Yet Crean’s winning streak continues unabated.  The sonics are so close to the Stones, and everything sounds completely natural.  How the hell do you replicate Charlie Watts’ drums on “Gimme Shelter”?  Dunno, but it sounds really good!

All this said, you’re still skeptical, right?  Covering “A Criminal Mind” and “Gimme Shelter”?  A healthy dose of skepticism is warranted when reading a glowing review of a covers album.  To me, covers are worth listening to when you enjoy the spin that another artist puts on the song.  In this case it’s Jim’s voice, a classic hard rock voice that I like a lot.  So I’m cool with hearing “A Criminal Mind”, because I like the way Jim sings.

Consider this.  We’re 10 months into a worldwide pandemic and gigs have dried up.  Some artists, like Jim Crean, are recording and releasing music, and we should be supporting that.  He gives you good value for the money.  This copy came signed, with a custom Jim Crean guitar pick and signed photo.  Not to mention some quality covers of great songs off the beaten track.  The Book of Cryptids Volume II comes with cool artwork of various cryptozoological specimens including a kraken, Bigfoot, some sirens and an alien.  You can buy this package direct from the artist, so you know the money goes to the right people.  Check it out — guaranteed a few of these tracks will put a smile on your face.

4/5 stars

THREE-VIEW: KISS – Best of Solo Albums (Japanese CD)

  Best of Solo Albums (Originally 1979, 2020 Universal Japan CD)

Third review for this Kiss compilation here, but why?  A couple reasons.  For one, it’s the first-ever official CD release of this album!  It took 41 years for them to finally put out a CD, and yet only in Japan.  More remarkably, there is one track here that I’ve never heard before in this particular version.

That song is the incredible Paul Stanley epic “Take Me Away (Together As One)”.  On Paul’s solo disc, it fades away at the end of side one at 5:35 in length.  Here, it goes to 5:48, no fade, right to the end of the track.  It’s an ending I’ve never heard before.  This song isn’t even on the more common European version of Best of Solo Albums, just the Japanese.  And apparently the CD has an unreleased version without the fade.

“Oh boy!” you exclaim.  “I have to buy this import just to get 13 seconds of music I never heard before?”

No.  You don’t have to buy it.  I did, because I wanted a copy of this album on CD.  When I discovered the longer version of the track, I was ecstatic to unexpectedly get something extra for my money.

There’s no need to review this album track by track again.  I’ve done it twice, and I’ve also reviewed all four solos albums twice each.  There’s really no need to run through all the songs again, although this tracklist is quite different.  Unlike the European version, these songs are not arranged in three-track blocks for each member.  Additionally, seven of the European tracks were substituted with others.  That’s more than half the album!

Gene Simmons:  Instead of “Mr. Make Believe” and “See You In Your Dreams”, Japan used “See You Tonite” and “Living In Sin”

Paul Stanley:  “Move On” was replaced by the unreleased version of “Take Me Away (Together As One)”.

Ace Frehley:  “Speedin’ Back to my Baby” was removed in favour of the instrumental “Fractured Mirror”

Peter Criss:  All three of the Cat’s songs – “You Matter To Me”, “Tossin’ and Turnin’”, and “Hooked on Rock and Roll” were replaced!  I guess Japan didn’t care for those as much as they did “Don’t You Let Me Down”, “Rock Me Baby” and “I Can’t Stop the Rain”.

For me, I prefer the running order that Europe used, with each member of the band getting three songs in a chunk.  However, there are plenty of songs that I prefer on the Japanese version, such as “See You Tonite”, “Take Me Away (Together As One), “I Can’t Stop the Rain” and “Don’t You Let Me Down”.

It’s interesting that the solo albums are by and large panned by the masses, but nobody can agree on the “Best Of“.  Maybe those albums weren’t so bad after all, at least when you distil them down to the essential tracks.  The Japanese CD will become my preferred listening experience for two main reasons:  it sounds better than the vinyl, and I like more of the songs.  It would sound even better if I had an MQA decoder, a new-ish hi-resolution CD format from Japan, which will unlock an even better sounding version of the album, if you have a few grand to spend on upgrading your system.  If not, enjoy the disc and stellar packaging, with not one but two different covers to display.

4/5 stars

 

Best of 2020 Part 6: Iron Tom Delivers the Lists

Iron Tom returns with his 2020 list of awesome, a little bit of commentary, and plenty of Youtube videos for you to check out!


  • Elder Omens

 

  • King Buffalo Dead Star

 

  • Drive-By Truckers The New OK

 

  • The Atomic Bitchwax Scorpio

 

  • King Gorm King Gorm

 

  • Five Alarm Funk Big Smoke

Let the ‘Wheels on the Bus’ take you on a tight funky ride…

 

  • Jerry Joseph The Beautiful Madness

 

  • Drive-By Truckers The Unraveling

Great album for the shit-storm that was the last four years. However, I’m not sure I’ll be partying to some of it four years from now….

 

  • Brant Bjork Brant Bjork

The coolest dude on the planet being a one-cool-man-band….

 

  • Steve Earle Ghosts of West Virginia

Emphasizing the humanity over politics plays well….

 

  • Deep Purple Whoosh!

After the quality of the last few albums, I don’t know why I was surprised by how much I liked this one… Keep going boys….

 

  • Testament Titans of Creation

This band has been pretty consistent over the decade and have produced another great thrash album that is as catchy as it is heavy….

 

  • Neil Young Homegrown

1974-recorded and 2020-released and enjoyed…I read that Young thinks that the album is ‘the unheard bridge between Harvest and Comes A Time’ and he’s right….

 

  • Armored Saint Punch the Sky

A pleasant surprise…no gimmicks just solid consistent heavy metal.

 

  • Blue Öyster Cult The Symbol Remains

A little uneven but the highs more than outweigh the lows… The videos may be unintentionally hilarious but the rock fire remains….

 

  • Wishbone Ash Coat of Arms

Fans of well crafted rock with tasty twin guitar will enjoy….

 

  • Annihilator Ballistic, Sadistic

A heavy riffy old-school thrashfest that does not let up….

 

  • Jason Isbell, Reunions

It doesn’t quite match the strength of his last two, but that’s only because Isbell has set the bar so damn high for himself… This is an excellent album in its own right….

 

  • Mr. Bungle The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo

Ian’s and Lombardo’s presence help Mr. Bungle deliver little on the experimentation, but some great straight-up thrash….

 

  • Brimstone Coven The Woes Of A Mortal Earth

Riffy modern occult rock with excellent vocal harmonies….

 

  • Lowrider Refractions

Who knew there were deserts in Sweden? These Kyuss-wannabies make a good case that there are….

 

  • Wytch Hazel III: Pentecost

Wishbone Ash fans will have lots here to enjoy….

 

  • King Weed – Riffs Of The Dead
  • King Weed The Seven Sins Of Doomsday

Instrumental Stoner from France… Groovy cool shit… And there are two more 2020 releases I haven’t checked out yet….

 

  • Diamond Head Lightning to the Nations 2020

A fresh coat of paint on some metal masterpieces and some pretty cool covers….

 

  • Wobbler Dwellers of the Deep

Yes, Crimson and Gentle Giant fans will find much to like here….

 

  • Freeways True Bearings

Vintage 70’s guitar rock for 2020 and they are from Brampton….

 

  • Bonehawk Iron Mountain

 

  • Shuffle Demons Crazy Time

 

 

 

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – Nights of the Dead – Legacy of the Beast – Live in Mexico City (2020)

IRON MAIDEN – Nights of the Dead – Legacy of the Beast – Live in Mexico City (2020 Parlophone)

I feel a bit like a jackass reviewing this, because so many people I know caught this tour, or at least one of the recent tours, and I’ve never seen Maiden live.  I only have these live albums to go by.  But what I like about Iron Maiden is that they take the time to document almost every single tour since the Bruce reunion era began.  (Only three tours did not receive a live album.)  The Legacy of the Beast tour was in support of a video game, and featured a sort of “legacy” setlist, heavy on the old classics with a small smattering of more recent material.  This prevents too much crossover with the prior live album, The Book of Souls – Live Chapter.

Without going track by track, I can tell you that Nights of the Dead was pieced together from three shows in Mexico City, much like Live After Death in Long Beach and Hammersmith.  Even so, Bruce’s voice only tends to get stronger as they go further down the setlist.  By “Hallowed” and “Run to the Hills”, it sounds like the man is just warming up!

The setlist is a delightful mix of hits, deeper cuts and the odd recent classic.  “Where Eagles Dare” from Piece of Mind whips the throng into immediate hysteria.  “Revelations” from the same LP has a certain contemplative gravity that it brings to any live album, and hearing it here is sheer nostalgic delight.  Two Blaze-era songs return to the set in “Sign of the Cross” and “Clansman”, both lengthy epics.  Enhanced by the three-guitar lineup and the Air Raid Siren, can we say these versions challenge the originals for supremacy?  Though it wasn’t written for Bruce, “Sign of the Cross” has more dynamics with him at the microphone — he adds a few high notes for embellishment.  Not to mention the depth that the third guitar adds to a song that was always a bit thin sounding.

Reunion era Maiden is cut back, leaving only “Wicker Man” and the always welcome “For the Greater Good of God”.  Both deserving songs.  Stuff like “Wicker Man” (and the earlier “Flight of Icarus”) really pump up the adrenaline levels by keeping it short, sharp and unshackled.

Then you have the stuff that you have to call “the hits”:  songs like “Aces High”, “2 Minutes to Midnight”, “Trooper”, “Beast”, “The Evil that Men Do”, “Iron Maiden”, “Fear of the Dark” and “Run to the Hills”.  These are the Maiden standards; a serving of essentials that everybody has connected with at some point in their life.  Some of them float in and out of setlists, and some always remain.

A word should always be said about the packaging and artwork of any Iron Maiden album.  The Mexican-themed Eddie can be found in a couple pieces of art inside and out.  Manager Rod Smallwood wrote the included liner notes, explaining that the live album came to be when the world came to a halt due to Covid-19.  Yay Covid?  Joking aside, Smallwood’s notes are always informative to read while rocking along to the CD.  There is even a mini 2021 tour poster (let’s hope!) included, with the Trooper version of Eddie surrounded by iconic imagery from prior Maiden artwork.  Icarus, the mushroom cloud from “2 Minutes to Midnight”, a crashed Spitfire…have a look.  Finally, a sticker sheet is an added bonus though most of us will be keeping the stickers intact, I reckon.

Perhaps it’s just giddy glee that there’s a new Maiden live album to cap off this year, but Nights of the Dead is so good that I wouldn’t change a thing.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Leatherwolf – Endangered Species (1984)

LEATHERWOLF – Endangered Species (1984 Tropical Records / 1985 Heavy Metal America)

Leatherwolf carry on today but their origins are found on a humble indi debut from Heavy Metal America records back in 1984.  The Florida band’s original lineup boasted lead vocalist/guitarist Michael Olivieri, who was finding his feet here on the first album.  His voice was enviable; the fact that he could play guitar led to a gimmick called the “triple axe attack” long before Iron Maiden were able to execute the concept themselves.

Opening track “Spiter” takes influence from the aforementioned Iron Maiden as well as the thrash scene on the west coast.  Its blast of metal power serves to open the album with gusto.  The title track “Endangered Species” has a cool layered riff that is almost buried beneath the heavy production.  This is a busy band, with drummer Dean “Drum Machine” Roberts keeping all limbs in a flurry.  A great vintage heavy metal track here, just begging for a recording less flat and brittle.  Plenty of hooks and ideas packed into five minutes.

“Tonight’s the Night” isn’t as memorable, though Olivieri sure gives the vocal his all.  I can’t but laugh at “The Hook”.  “Hey honey, looking for a date?”  Songs about the world’s oldest occupation oh so often veer into cringe territory.  This is no “Charlotte the Harlot” though that seems to be the intent.  “Keep your eye out for the hook!” sings Michael.  The quiet section in the middle is pretty cool and there are multiple nifty riffs, but the song is a clanker.

Side two begins with acoustic guitars, a needed change of tone, and soon it’s back to hammering riffs.  “Season of the Witch” isn’t half bad.  As usual one riff just isn’t enough.  An amped-up Beast-era Iron Maiden seems to be the primary influence.  “Off the Track” has a shouted chorus that passes for a hook.  Not bad, but somehow incomplete like its parts weren’t fully assembled.  A slower tempo and sonic effects make “Kill and Kill Again” an effectively heavy change of pace.  A lot of Maiden in the faster outro, though.  Then accelerate into “Vagrant” which is further into the thrash side, but the production renders the guitars too tinny and without depth.  Fortunately the album closes on title track “Leatherwolf”, a mighty strong Priest-like street fight.

Though they still remained a heavy metal band with three lead guitarists, Leatherwolf added considerably more commercial elements such as ballads and keyboards by the time of their major label debut.  Michael Olivieri would tone down the screamy side of his style, which is used excessively here.  The band had a lot of room to grow, but their youthful exuberance helps make up for it.  There are a few worthwhile tracks that may have a place in your collection, and any fan of the heavier side of vintage metal will enjoy a spin.

2/5 stars